Earlier this week, Oumar Niasse became the first player to be banned for diving by a Football Association independent regulatory commission. It was deemed that the penalty he was awarded was unjust as he was committing a ‘Successful Deception of a Match Official’.
Niasse denied that he had “conned” the referee. “I went down because of the contact. The referee can give the penalty or if he didn’t give it also, I will understand. If you watch the video you can understand there is contact.” Former Blackburn winger Stuart Ripley, alongside a Mr P Raven and a Mr M Johnson decided that the video “gave clear and overwhelming evidence that the player had exaggerated the effect of a normal contact in order to deceive the referee.”
Whether Niasse exaggerated the contact with Scott Dann or not is besides the point. The point is that footballers are still not incentivised to stay on their feet. Until the FA make it clear to everyone that a penalty can be awarded without going to ground, players, coaches and fans will continue to say things like “he
should have gone down there”. This is why Niasse can feel hard done by. Not only because there was contact, but also because he, like all other players, has been coached to “deceive the referee”. They will not get a penalty if they stay on their feet and their goalscoring opportunity may have been hindered by contact with a defender. I am convinced that in this situation his coaches and teammates will not be saying that he should not have gone down, more simply that he should get better at diving.
Where does this deception of the referee end? How many times have we seen players turn away in mock disgust, berating the linesman for giving a throw-in or a corner to the opposition where they know full well that it was the correct decision? How many times do we see defenders kick a player in the penalty area and then raise their hands in the air shaking their heads? Will defenders start admitting that the hand ball they committed was deliberate? Will strikers admit to “going down too easily”?.
The competitiveness of the players is what makes football the game we love, and is the bedrock of any great sporting contest. Whilst the incentives for “deceiving the referee” are so high, these acts of honesty can not be expected, nor do I want them to be commonplace. Like any fan, I do not not want to see players diving, but there is also nothing quite like the frustration of a player staying on his or her feet, being fouled, and then not being awarded the penalty that his or her play merited.
This is not to say that the regulatory commission do not have a place in the game. Both dangerous play and clear diving, where no contact has been made, should be retrospectively punished. However, the members of the commission have now made their jobs much harder by picking an incident that could still be argued either way as the benchmark from which all future bans must now be measured. Some people will say that in time, through the work of the commission, simulation and diving will be extracted from the game. I disagree. Whilst the rewards for the “deception of the referee” are so great and the pressure from the fans and coaches of their clubs so high, the risk of a ban will not deter players from going to ground. It is only when there are a string of decisions, backing up a clear message from the FA that penalties will be awarded to those players trying to stay on their feet, that we may see a change in the mindset of those individuals.